Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summertime Snapshot: D-I Football

So as I’m sure you all know by now, the three main sports we cover here on the NH Notebook are boys basketball, girls basketball and football – that’s a total of 14 divisions. And over the next few weeks we will be taking a sneak peak at what to expect during this upcoming 2012-2012 season in each of those 14 divisions.

So 14 total articles, and the order that I go in for these will be totally random. Might be football one day, girls basketball the next day, who knows. I call it the NH Notebook’s ‘Summertime Snapshot Series’.

First up is Division I football. Now this is just a sneak peak at each division. Of course since it’s only July, things will change a lot between now and when the season starts. But as of RIGHT NOW, here’s how I see it. So just like the Black Eyed Peas said, let’s get it started (parents, if you didn’t get that last reference ask your kid).

The early favorites in D-I are Exeter, Pinkerton and Manchester Central...

Overall the division appears to be a little down in 2012, as the Class of 2012 had a ton of talent and as a result many D-I teams were hit hard by graduation losses. All four of last year’s playoff teams (Exeter, Pinkerton, Nashua South and Salem) were all senior-laden teams who will be looking for lots of new faces to step up if they hope to be as good as they were last year. I would even argue that Division II is a deeper and possibly more competitive division this year than D-I.

While all four of those teams graduated a lot of talent, it’s the two teams who met in last year’s title game (Exeter and Pinkerton) who have more returning talent coming back. Then there’s Central, who has missed the playoffs for two straight years (just barely) but they have possibly more talent coming back than anyone else in D-I.

The fact of the matter is that because of graduation losses, none of the teams that made the playoffs in 2011 will be as good as they were in 2012. Of course, this opens the door for the teams who missed the playoffs last year to move up in the ranks. That’s where Central comes in, because although the Little Green will miss play makers Junior Brown, Jared Chandler and Jordan McCarthy there’s no question that when you look at the key guys that all the teams have coming back Central should be a top 3 team (along with Exeter and Pinkerton).

And while Memorial graduated the two players who carried their team last year (QB Codey Dalton and RB/LB Steven Dwight) so they could be in for another tough year, you could also expect to see improvements out of Nashua North, Londonderry and Concord.

Nashua North made the D-I championship game in both 2009 and 2010, but after graduating the majority of the starters from those teams it was definitely a down year for the Titans in 2011. It’s not their fault though – the fact is that because of those heavy graduation losses in 2009 and 2010 last year most of North’s starters were first-year starters and most of the kids on their roster were first-year varsity players. Coach Robie’s team took their lumps last year, but with a lot of kids coming back don’t be surprised to see them back in the playoffs in 2012.

I’m pretty sure that Exeter, Pinkerton and Central will be the top 3 teams in the division, but the fourth spot is up for grabs. North could end up grabbing that spot, and if it’s not them then it would probably be Nashua South. The Purple Panthers will really miss star players Armond McRae, Derek Paradis, Julier Rivera and John Bierens. They’ll be down from last year but with the talented youngster Trevor Knight at QB and some solid young talent around him they could sneak back into the playoffs. Concord could also have a shot with the dynamic duo of senior RB Tolbert Nemo and junior WR Seimou Smith.

But I call Exeter, Pinkerton and Central this year’s ‘Big 3’ in D-I. Here’s a closer look at each team.

Exeter
What a year it was for Blue Hawk football in 2011. A year after they went winless in D-I play they went 11-1 and beat the mighty Pinkerton Astros 23-13 in the title game. Nobody gave them a chance to win that game but they did it. Exeter was THE best story in NH football last season.

And how can you bet against them this year? After all it’s Exeter and Pinkerton who have more returning talent than the other two teams who made the playoffs last year. And Pinkerton graduated more starters than Exeter.

Plus, the Blue Hawks have possibly the best returning player in the Division in RB/DB Tyler Grant. Grant had a breakout junior season in 2011 and his consistent production and play making ability on both sides of the football played a HUGE role in Exeter’s run to a state title. He was a workhorse at tailback and was great in pass coverage on defense. The question is, will he have as much success running the football without Brad Tiernan and Adam Morin (two of the best linemen in the state last year) blocking for him?

Luckily for Grant he will once again have help in the backfield, as the explosive Colby Swane returns to once again give the Blue Hawks a big play threat who has the ability to go for six any time he touches it. And while they will miss the toughness of RB/DB Conor Carrier who also graduated look for Galen Antolino to step up and get more carries.

Three other players to watch out for on Exeter is hard hitting safety Ethan Joyce, linebacker James Vogt and all-state kicker/punter Logan Laurent, who are all among the top players in the state at their respective positions. Joyce is a dominant defender against either the run or the pass, and Laurent is hands down the best kicker in the state (he received a scholarship offer from UNH earlier this summer).


Pinkerton
No team in the state graduates more talent than Pinkerton. Emmitt Smith, Kevin Davies, Jesse Trottier, Andrew Curran, Ryan Coombs, Brett Liporto, Alex Pacocha, Adam Olson, Cody Desmairas and William Consavage. They’re all gone and they will be sorely missed by Coach O’Reilly and his staff.

With that being said they still have some very talented players coming back. The bottom line is the Astros were a STACKED team in 2011 (which makes Exeter’s win over them in the title game even more impressive). But because they were so stacked they can graduate all those star players and still be good.

Leading the cast of returning players is a pair of stud juniors (Manny Latimore and Matt Madden) and the St. Onge twins (Chris and Matt). Latimore has waited patiently for the past two years as Smith and Davies got more of the carries. But now it’s his time to shine, and you can look for the speedy Latimore to be possibly the best running back in the state for each of the next two years. The kid is a freak athletically, has great breakaway speed and slick cut-back moves.

Madden meanwhile is a fierce, hard hitting linebacker who is always around the football. He might have made more tackles for a loss in 2011 than anyone else in NH – and he was only a sophomore! There’s no debate here, Madden is THE best linebacker in the state and will be for the next two years.

Chris St. Onge enters his third season as the starting QB for Pinkerton, so by now you know he has to have the offense down to a science. His twin Matt came back last year after missing his whole sophomore year to injury and had a very productive season at linebacker. Also look for another big season on defense from DB Sean Conroy.

Here’s another factor to consider – while Pinkerton did graduate a ton of talent, they also posted A LOT of blowout wins. So their second stringers got more playing time than anyone else’s. Just saying.


Manchester Central
Central will once again be a high scoring team, with QB Riley Cote, tailbacks David Weekly and Hector Velez and wideout Troy Pelletier. Cote is possibly the best player in the division and posted some HUGE passing numbers last season as a junior in his first year as the starter. Of course it did help that he had receivers like Junior Brown and Jared Chandler, but still there’s no doubt he is one of the state’s top QB’s. Look for Central to go no huddle early and often, they'll spread the field and let Cote throw lasers to his receivers and mix in draw plays to the tailbacks, exploiting mis-matches all over the place.

Cote still has Pelletier to throw the ball to, and Weekly and Velez is a very good 1-2 punch in the backfield. Velez was an honorable mention all-state player last season, while Weekly really ended the season on a high note. He was the talk of the Turkey Bowl, as he had a great performance in Central’s win over Trinity.

Pelletier is a talented WR but he’s just as good defensively, as one of the division’s better DB’s. Also returning defensively for the Little Green are fellow all-staters Dan Pasqual at LB and DB Nick Vrastenes.

Central is a hungry team that is looking for respect. They have a bad taste in the mouths after barely missing the playoffs for the past couple years. They’re looking to get rid of that bad taste and also get some more respect, because they feel like they’ve been too low in the Power Rankings polls last couple years as well. Most people (not me though) had Trinity ranked higher than Central going into last year’s Turkey Bowl before Central pounded them. That was a statement game for the Little Green. They will be looking to make more statements like that this year. They will just have to get off to a better start to the season, as poor starts have been what has plagued them last two years. Playoff seeding and home field is always crucial, so it will be interesting to see how soon they’re able to put it together in 2012.

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